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Musical Musings: Miscellaneous

A Liturgical Guitarist Reformed

by Michael Inman
And we trashed, just trashed, a glorious tradition of liturgical music which the council fathers at Vatican II explicitly commanded be fostered.  We replaced it with... 'On Eagles' Wings'.
  ~Fr. Joseph Wilson

An Old Fashioned "Book Burnin"

About a week before I sat down to write this I was cleaning out a bookshelf and came across my old "Glory & Praise" hymnals. I thought to myself, "I'm not just going to throw these away. No, this hideous collection of Barney Songs deserves to be burned!" Actually, I apologize to the Barney Show. Their songs are much better. So we rolled the 55 gallon drum away from the garage, tossed in the old Christmas tree that was laying behind the garage, and set 'er ablaze. Tearing off a few pages at a time Janet and I read aloud the song titles with exaggerated groans and expressions of disgust as we threw them in to their proper fate. The "performance notes" were the funniest. One suggested that, for "movement," the performing ensemble could circle the altar holding hands during the singing of a particular Lamb of God. While singing the notes gave a suggested dance step involving sliding one foot and bringing the other over in slow steps while the group circled round the altar. It was truly a pleasure watching the purging fire consume the scourge of Catholic hymnody worldwide.  Giddy from the experience, we considered raiding the nearest Catholic church, taking all the G & P hymnals there, and having a true bonfire. But then we said, "Naaah."

So here, gentle reader, begins the story of the coming of age of a liturgical guitarist.

Off to a Bad Start

For 30 years now, we Catholics have struggled to worship the Lord against the unholy strains of post-Vatican II sacred music, which falls midway between the sound of an old hootenanny and Barry Manilow before his genius had matured.
  ~Joseph Sobran "Victims of Music"

In 1987 I was formally introduced to the Catholic Church through the woman I would eventually marry. The parish where I was going through RCIA and attended Mass, Saint Mary's in Memphis, had a "folk mass" on Sunday afternoons. The group consisted of three women, all singing and strumming guitars, and one man who bowed and plucked an upright bass. Being brand new to the Church I thought, "Hey! This is cool!" Right away I got into "the group". Their repertoire, with few exceptions being old Protestant standards, was exclusively the three volume Glory & Praise set. I was really struck at how easy this stuff was. Since, at that time, I was strictly a "player" and not a "singer/player" I would improvise constantly during the songs lending a combination country/bluegrass/bluesy feel to them. The only thing that frustrated me was the hard strumming style that was the trademark of everyone else in "the group." Although competent singers, none were really comfortable instrumentalists, and no instruments were miked, so volume was in. Although I should have known that this was strange I was so enthusiastic about playing music in church that I never even considered the possibility that something was wrong.

Another State, Another Hymnal.

In 1993 we packed up and moved to Paducah, KY. The church we were attending had a really good contemporary "group" that consisted of many vocalists, a keyboardist, and an occasional guitarist. Introducing myself to the music director one day I mentioned that I was very familiar with the Glory & Praise hymnals. He kind of grimaced and immediately handed me a We Celebrate hymnal (the older blue softcover ones) along with a Celebration Series psalm book, told me to spend a little time looking at these and come to choir practice when I was ready. Well, I was more than ready. I thought these songs were the cream of the crop. All these different Mass settings, psalms, and songs that were actually something of a challenge to play gave me a newfound enthusiasm for liturgical music. I also began to realize just how bad the Glory and Praise hymnals were. The songs weren't even good folk songs, much less sacred music. I was truly embarrassed that I ever stood in front of a congregation and led them in a rousing rendition of "Bloom Where You're Planted." There is truly a special place in purgatory for Carey Landry.

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Part 2: The "Glory Daze"

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